Florida Drug Sentencing Reform Bill A Step Forward, Says FAMM

Post Date: October 7, 2013


Rep. Katie Edwards

GAINESVILLE, FLA. – FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) Florida Project Director Greg Newburn today applauded the introduction of HB 99, a bill to reform Florida’s strict mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws. HB 99 was filed by Representative Katie Edwards (D, Plantation). Rep. Dave Hood (R, Daytona Beach), is the bill’s prime co-sponsor.

“Representatives Edwards and Hood have displayed courage and leadership on this issue. Florida has wasted too much money and too many lives on failed strategies in the fight against prescription drug abuse, and it’s time for a new approach. This bill is a step forward for Florida,” Newburn said.

Newburn pointed out that the threshold weights for trafficking in prescription drugs were inconsistent with the threshold weights for trafficking in other drugs. For instance, while the threshold trafficking weight for heroin represents roughly a week’s supply for a heroin addict, the threshold trafficking weight for prescription drugs is just a few hours’ supply.

 “Under current law, illegal possession of just seven pills carries a mandatory minimum three years in prison,” Newburn said. He added, “Possession of 44 pills carries a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence. This bill restores balance and consistency in sentencing for prescription drug crimes.”

According to Florida TaxWatch, Florida spends nearly $100 million annually incarcerating drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences. Many of those offenders, Newburn argued, would be better served by alternative sanctions.

“The current strategy seems to be arrest low-level prescription drug addicts, prosecute them, incarcerate them, release them, and then repeat the cycle all over again. That strategy has been as expensive as it has been ineffective,” Newburn said, adding that both prescription drug overdoses and arrests for prescription drug trafficking increased significantly for more than a decade after mandatory minimums were imposed.

Newburn argued that drug courts were more effective, more efficient alternatives to prison for many low-level offenders. “The Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability found that Florida could save millions of dollars by diverting low-level drug offenders into intensive rehabilitation rather than prison,” Newburn said. He added that, “For these offenders, rehabilitation reduces recidivism better than prison. That means less crime, fewer victims and a more efficient criminal justice system.”

For more information on HB 99, or mandatory minimum drug laws, contact Greg Newburn gnewburn@famm.org or Monica Pratt Raffanel, media@famm.org.